Trust is an important aspect of the event production business, though it is seldom explicitly addressed. Once you boil off the artful language, renders, schedules, rosters, budgets, proposals, and contracts, what’s left is very simple: One entity trusts another to perform a function for financial remuneration, the product of which is either tangible, as with production elements, or conceptual, as with design.
The event production business begins with reputations, and we are judged by our canon of prior work. When a producer or event planner chooses a production company to handle technical aspects of that particular meeting, event, fashion show, or product launch, he or she trusts in a smooth execution which acts to protect a reputation. A good reputation in this industry equates to dollars in the bank. In my 10 years in production and design, I have found that trust matters most in three areas: ethical behavior, pricing elements, and equipment selection.
Ethical behavior covers four points. First, safety is a priority and action must be taken when unsafe practices crop up. I recall a production manager beaming with pride as one of his riggers stood on the top rails of an extended Genie lift, the unsecured outriggers serving more to decorate the precariously balanced base than protect it, while he hung a point in a school gym. “Isn’t he amazing?” the PM asked. In this celebration of machismo, safety and common sense were in short supply.
Second, clients trust the company will hire ethical subcontractors, if any are required, whose pay practices are clear—rates, hours, and expectations delineated. This should exclude, for example, employers who misclassify employees as independent contractors, pay on a 1099 instead of a W2, and skirt employment taxes and insurance. Production companies must also guarantee that subcontractors carry necessary insurance and pay the requisite federal, state, and local taxes. Illegal or underpaid workers create problems we should all avoid.
Third, clients expect that their clients will be dealt with ethically by a production company. Underhanded behavior, like stealing clients, is bad news for everyone. We all agree on this, but the reality becomes a gray area. What is the correct protocol, for example, when a client of a client is unhappy and comes directly to you next time? For disreputable production companies, the answer is probably, and unfortunately, more predicated on the dollar amount of each relationship than ethics, but it’s still a breach of trust and shows a willingness to abuse the relationship—another reputation damager.
Finally, clients trust a production company to value all intellectual property and act ethically with it. An audio colleague once bragged how he gave investment advice to various people based on the pre-released financials of the companies for which he did A1 work—an obvious breach. Clients also do not want their sensitive data at risk, and that means being smart and sensitive about data storage and transmission. Today we contend with jump drives, computers online 24/7, and email, all of which are not secure. Is the laptop running the presentation password-protected? Is it tethered to anything? Did someone seriously just email me the company’s private presentation file over the hotel’s public, free Wi-Fi?
Trust is important in how production companies price a job, as well. Pricing should be transparent. Years ago, I worked for décor lighting companies that priced elements “creatively.” A dance floor wash would have an arbitrary price based neither on the cost of the gear nor the labor to install it. Ultimately, somebody was paying $2,000 for four ellipsoidals for a two-color wash. Some might call that extortion.
It’s hard to speak about pricing without discussing equipment—using the correct amount and type. During a fundraiser I recently attended in New York, a not-for-profit organization rented a video package suitable for Madison Square Garden in a comparatively dinky venue with only 300 guests. Was a 12-screen video package necessary for a 20-minute presentation?
Listen to the needs of the show, and put those needs above all else. Specify the gear the job needs, even if that equates to less profit. Production “by the pound” is a poor way to do business in the long term.
Trust—it underpins our relationships and makes doing business possible. Usually, unless betrayed, a client never realizes how important trust is. If you trust your production company, never let them go. If you don’t, then perhaps it’s time for a change.
Lance Darcy is head of the design department for Tinc Design & Productions based in New York City.